Unilever Food Solutions hosted a select group of chefs and restaurant operators at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone (CIA) to highlight their efforts to help people choose delicious, slightly healthier meals when they eat out through a new concept called, “Seductive Nutrition.” Developed by Unilever Food Solutions after the release of a global World Menu Report, “Seductive Nutrition” nudges guests to choose top menu items made slightly healthier through small changes to ingredients and preparation methods, with more enticing menu descriptions.
Several of the chefs and operators in attendance were awarded the CIA weekend trip as winners in Unilever Food Solutions’ “Seductive Nutrition Challenge.” The challenge asked restaurants to pledge to cut 100 calories from a top menu item by applying “Seductive Nutrition” tools and techniques. The CIA event served as a national stage for them to share their success story among their industry peers and experts in the field, as well as motivate additional chefs to adopt the same approach to help Americans everywhere eat a little healthier when dining out, without sacrificing enjoyment.
“Unilever Food Solutions’ ‘Seductive Nutrition’ approach aligns with existing research that shows the dining choices we make can easily be shaped by minor cues, like changing the name of grilled chicken to Savory Southwestern Grilled Chicken,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. “The chefs showed that you can even reduce calories in popular dishes and still make them very appealing.” Dr. Wansink led a talk at the CIA event focused on “Mindless Eating” and how the wording of food descriptions and how the way food is presented can help entice diners into eating more healthfully.
“We’re thrilled to see the concept of ‘Seductive Nutrition’ put into practice at restaurants, college campuses, and other out-of-home dining venues,” says Lisa Carlson, MS, RD, nutrition manager at Unilever Food Solutions. “The winning chefs have truly captured the essence of Seductive Nutrition – shaving a small number of calories, while making their dish just as delicious and appealing by romancing the menu descriptions.”
From an independent restaurant to a retirement community, the “Seductive Nutrition” Challenge winners represented a variety of restaurant segments:
• Keith Esbin, of Bar Harbor Seafood Corporation and Boston Lobster Feast Restaurants in Orlando, Florida, switched up his New England Lobster Roll Platter using light mayonnaise and additional herbs and seasonings to become a Less Guilty New England Lobster Roll Platter. Esbin’s menu change allowed his business to reach a new customer base who looked at them as being more socially, environmentally, and nutritionally responsible.
• Thomas Ryan, of Resurrection Retirement Community in Chicago, changed his popular restaurant dish of Swedish Meatballs to Chicken Swedish Meatballs. He also revised the menu description to “tender chicken meatballs in creamy mushroom sauce” to make the dish sound much more enticing.
The two winners demonstrated their menu item changes during their trip to the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone. They participated in a hands-on session where they showed customers the small changes they had made to reduce calories. In addition, they received a tour of the Culinary Institute, learned additional healthy cooking techniques from chefs, and attended a “Healthy Inspiration” lunch and wine tasting.
While the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone event focused on restaurant chefs and operators, the tips shared by Dr. Wansink can translate from out-of-home to in-home dining. For instance:
• Simple, yet descriptive words can help guests choose healthier menu items. Including descriptive adjectives can turn everyday mashed potatoes into “creamy, whipped mashed potatoes,” and a yogurt parfait into a “silken yogurt parfait.”
• Incorporating vivid adjectives can trigger people’s meal expectations. Wansink and his team’s analysis of more than 1,000 descriptively named menu items pointed to three key ways for foods to be “seductively” named:
• Geographic labels - Using words to create an image or illicit the ideology of a geographic area that consumers can associate with foods; e.g., Southwestern Tex-Mex Salad.
• Nostalgic labels - Alluding to a diner’s past can trigger happy associations tied to family, tradition, national origin and a sense of wholesomeness. Use fond associations to create appealing names; e.g., Old-World Italian Manicotti.
• Sensory labels – Describing the taste, smell, and texture of menu items served can help set consumers’ dining expectations; e.g., Warm Apple Crisp.
• “Seductive Nutrition” includes the holistic dining experience. Nice dinnerware, soft light, and a matching tablecloth can help enhance a person’s dining expectations. Wansink’s research also found people rated the taste of a brownie much higher when served on a nice dinner plate than on a cheap plastic plate.